"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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Austrian flag
Froehliche Weihnachten
Austria Tree
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enlarged view
The feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 is the beginning of Christmas, Austria's most important holiday of the year. When he arrives, the saint is accompanied by the devil, and children are expected to tell them about their good deeds and bad deeds. Santa protects the children from the devil during their visit, promising them fruit, nuts and candy if they will be good.

The Christmas tree is a popular custom in Austrian homes and sometimes it is decorated by the parents and kept in a locked room until Christmas Eve. Following a traditional family dinner of fried carp, a bell is rung and the tree is exhibited in a blaze of glory. Our Austrian tree is decorated with handpainted balls from Austria.

Shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, some churches have trumpeters or carolers climb to the bell towers to either trumpet or sing Christmas music to serenade families on their way to midnight church service. Rural families may hold torches as they make their way down from the mountains, quite a dramatic sight.

It was during the Christmas season of 1818 in the village of Oberndorf that teacher Franz Gruber and parish priest Joseph Mohr composed the most beloved Christmas song of all time, Stille Nacht, or Silent Night, and sang it accompanied by a guitar for the Christmas Eve service in Father Mohr's church. The song was probably used for awhile in St. Nicola's parish and then forgotten. Years later when a famous organ builder came to the church to repair the organ, the song was found and never lost again.

The Christmas season ends in Austria on New Year's Eve which marks the beginning of a new year as well as the social season known as Fasching which lasts seven weeks and has many festivities to help Austrians pass the winter months.